DFL Secretary of State Steve Simon and Republican challenger Kim Crockett debated for the first time Sunday night with only one of them promising to abide by the results in November.
Asked on WCCO Radio if he was confident in the administration of the 2022 election and whether he would accept the results, Simon said, "Yes and yes."
When asked the same question, Crockett paused and said she's running because of "real concerns voters have expressed."
She then responded directly to moderator Blois Olson, calling it an odd question, and saying, "We aren't there yet. We are weeks out and we just have to see what happens between now and the certification of the election."
Simon, 52, is seeking a third, four-year term, touting Minnesota's nation-leading voter participation as evidence of voters' faith in the system that allows six weeks of absentee voting and same-day registration. He calls the level of misconduct in Minnesota elections "microscopic."
Crockett, 62, a corporate lawyer, however, raises doubts about election integrity. She wants new limits on voting, including shortening by a month the absentee period and limiting who can vote by mail. She also wants voters to be required to show photo identification at the polls.
But Crockett sought to downplay the notion that she's an election denier. She said she was joking when she called herself the "election denier in chief," her quote being used in ads attacking her.
The debate lasted an hour inside the radio station's downtown Minneapolis studio with the two candidates sitting beside each other. In the latest Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 Minnesota Poll, Simon leads Crockett by nearly eight percentage points.
Their comments were pointed at times, but the tone was polite with neither candidate interrupting the other. They shook hands and engaged in friendly small-talk for a few minutes after they went off the air.
In his calm, soft-spoken manner, Simon repeated sharp words he has used before, saying Crockett's "extremism is unfortunate and it is disqualifying." He called her positions "hyper partisanship" and "increasingly bizarre theories."
"My mission as secretary of state has been to protect the freedom to vote for every eligible Minnesotan," he said, adding that the state's voting laws were designed by Republicans and Democrats. "We should be proud of what we've all built together."
But Crockett said, "It's time to take a fresh look at how we vote and how we count the vote."
Simon said Minnesotans wouldn't lead the nation in voter turnout if they didn't have faith in the elections. Crockett responded that high voter turnout doesn't mean the elections can't be improved.
She said same-day voter registration has "undermined our sense of fairness and confidence in the system for quite some time." She wants the 2023 Legislature to reconsider the duration of Minnesota's absentee voting period.
Simon is proposing to change the dual driver's license-voter registration process. He wants to make it an opt-out process rather than the opt-in process it is now. Currently, drivers who get new licenses must check "yes" if they want to simultaneously be registered to vote.
Simon hammered on a theme that "combating disinformation" and being as transparent as possible is something his office does to try to increase confidence in elections. He noted that Crockett has claimed she doesn't know whether President Joe Biden won the 2020 election. "He won by 220,000 votes," Simon said, referring to Minnesota.
His opponent, Simon said, is part of a orchestrated disinformation effort designed to undermine views on democracy and that led to the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. "Pushing back against this dangerous disinformation is one of the big parts of my job right now," Simon said.
In response, Crockett said there were "a number of things that happened in 2020, but things before 2020 as well," without being specific. She said a lack of confidence in elections dates to 2000, Bush v. Gore and hanging chads.
Crockett said Simon "is not listening to voters who want to strike a better balance between security and convenience. ... Election officials can be indifferent to voters when they hold office for a long time. I think that's what happened here."
She faulted Simon for allowing Mark Zuckerberg's nonprofit to spend millions in Minnesota in 2020. Simon countered that the money was used by cities and counties for things like equipment and space rental.
On the issue of ranked-choice voting, the two candidates didn't diverge diametrically. Crockett doesn't support it and called it confusing. Simon said he's intrigued by how it's worked in some places, but that it "needs more time in the oven" before it's considered as a statewide option.